Cuban citizen Manuel Valle appeals to Florida Supreme Court after circuit judge refuses to hear journalists’ evidence on faulty execution drugs

August 15, 2011

Florida’s plan to carry out an ‘experimental’ execution using discredited new drugs is set to be challenged in the state Supreme Court. Lawyers for 73-year-old Cuban citizen Manuel Valle, who is potentially facing execution on September 2nd, filed an appeal with Florida’s highest court after their client was denied a full and fair hearing on the safety of his execution. During a crucial session to determine whether using a new drug, pentobarbital, in Mr Valle’s execution could breach state and federal laws against cruel and unusual punishment, the circuit court refused to admit affidavits from two journalists who had directly witnessed Georgia’s first pentobarbital execution earlier this year. Media reports of Roy Willard Blankenship’s “thrashing, jerking death” in Georgia, during which his eyes never closed, had led Harvard anaesthesiologist Dr David Waisel to state that the prisoner must have “suffered greatly”. As a result, Georgia videotaped a subsequent execution in an attempt to determine how much prisoners were suffering. Yet despite the relevance of the Georgia case to that of Mr Valle, who is set to be the first person in Florida to face execution using pentobarbital, the state’s circuit court refused to even consider testimony from the journalists concerned. Ignoring the objections of Mr Valle’s lawyers, the court then allowed the testimony of state witnesses, intended to rebut these reports, to go ahead.The judge subsequently relied on the evidence presented by those two rebuttal witnesses in forming her decision. “Despite the fact that these witnesses were being called to rebut evidence that was never presented, the lower court denied Mr. Valle’s motion and, in fact, relied on the State’s witnesses in denying him relief,” say Mr Valle’s lawyers in an appeal filed on Friday, concluding that, “The circuit court’s denial of a full and fair hearing violated Mr. Valle’s rights to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and corresponding provisions of the Florida Constitution.”

Reprieve investigator Katherine Bekesi said: “The circuit court hearing appears to have been an alarmingly one-sided process. It seems absurd to exclude crucial defense evidence, yet still to hear state evidence intended to rebut it – and then allow it to play a central part in the decision. It has to be hoped that Florida’s Supreme Court takes a more balanced approach to this critical issue.”ENDS  Notes to editors 1. a href=”/cases/manuelvalle/”>Manuel Valle is a Cuban national with Spanish links, who has now been on death row for 33 years. He has been denied proper clemency proceedings, and (similarly to the recent case of Humberto Leal in Texas) did not receive the consular assistance to which he was entitled. His execution has been stayed until September 1st to allow a full hearing on the matter to take place. 3. An eyewitness from the Associated Press has described the “thrashing, jerking death of Roy Willard Blankenship” during which “his eyes never closed”. The full text of Dr David Waisel’s affidavit on Roy Blankenship’s inadequate anaesthesia can be found on Reprieve’s website. 4. Reprieve’s EC Project identifies and assists prisoners with European connections who are facing the death penalty in the USA.